How is sunna different to anatta?

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Dinsdale
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How is sunna different to anatta?

Post by Dinsdale » Sat Aug 27, 2016 9:08 am

Sunna ( emptiness ) seems to have a very similar meaning to anatta in the Sunna Sutta. Is there really a difference, and if so, what is it?

"Insofar as it is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self: Thus it is said, Ananda, that the world is empty. And what is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self? The eye is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self. Forms... Eye-consciousness... Eye-contact is empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self."

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html ( English )

https://suttacentral.net/pi/sn35.85 ( Pali )
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cjmacie
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Re: How is sunna different to anatta?

Post by cjmacie » Sun Aug 28, 2016 9:37 am

Spiny Norman wrote:Sunna ( emptiness ) seems to have a very similar meaning to anatta in the Sunna Sutta. Is there really a difference, and if so, what is it?
Good question. Big question, or, perhaps, huge field of possible discussions.

Towards the end of writing what's below, I happened to look in the digital Nyanatiloka dictionary:
"suñña = (adj.), suññatā (noun): void (ness), empty (emptiness). As a doctrinal term it refers, in Theravāda, exclusively to the anattā doctrine,.i.e. the unsubstantiality of all phenomena: "Void is the world ... because it is void of a self and anything belonging to a self" (suññam attena vā attaniyena vā; S. XXXV, 85…"
That would appear a direct answer, in terms of orthodoxy, supporting the first part of the OP question here, even citing the same sutta

So the rest (below), I'll go through anyway, as it touches on possible "difference":

One angle that comes to mind:
1) An association that anattā may be more of a vipassana / pannya issue; has to do with looking at, seeing into phenomena, of "behind" them (where there may or may not be anything there).

2) Similarly, an association that suññata has a dimension as a samādhi practice. This is rooted in personal viewpoint on the matter. Granted there's reams of material on suññata in various contexts, e.g. sn35.85, as well as a noteworthy, characteristically comprehensive essay by Thanissaro on the issue ("The Integrity of Emptiness", 2006); not to mention the whole issue of how it figures in Mahayana circles.

The samādhi angle has to do wth MN 121 (Cūlauññata Sutta), i.e. my having heard an all-day exposition of this sutta by one Santikaro, back in 2009. In terms of practice, what was learned then remains the sense of suññata that I use regularly.

Most here probably know MN 121 quite well. The gist of it, as I recall, has to do with mindfulness of how the context of phenomena shifts – when in the village (city), one is mindful of all the distractions (people, activity, noises, etc.); when going into the forest, noticing how all the distractions of the city are no longer present; the memory of them lingers for a moment, in noting that they are now absent, are suñña. Then that memory fades as one immerses in the experience of forest, which, after a while, proves also to have its own set of distractions (rustling leaves, insects, animals, etc.). And so on, moving successively through the contexts "earth" (more in the Kasina sense than in the Mahadhatu sense), unbounded space, unbounded consciousness, nothingness, neither perception nor not, and finally "cessation" – at each step at first mindful of the suññata that the previous context-sensations fall into, so to speak. Back at the start of the sutta, Buddha replied to Ananda that he, in fact, often "dwells" (probably viharati) in suññata , where this kind of "dwelling" often associates with samādhi, and in particular jhāna.

Curiously, this (MN 121) usage appears to be a possible exception to Nyanatiloka's assertion that suññata refers "exclusively to the anattā doctrine"?

This kind of practice also, IMO, relates to the classical samādhivipassana combo practice – one "dwells" in jhāna, acutely mindful of what it's like; then emerges and applies vipassana to examine what that experience was all about, including, probably, its ultimate suññata.

Dinsdale
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Re: How is sunna different to anatta?

Post by Dinsdale » Sun Aug 28, 2016 4:20 pm

cjmacie wrote:
Spiny Norman wrote:Sunna ( emptiness ) seems to have a very similar meaning to anatta in the Sunna Sutta. Is there really a difference, and if so, what is it?
Good question. Big question, or, perhaps, huge field of possible discussions.

Towards the end of writing what's below, I happened to look in the digital Nyanatiloka dictionary:
"suñña = (adj.), suññatā (noun): void (ness), empty (emptiness). As a doctrinal term it refers, in Theravāda, exclusively to the anattā doctrine,.i.e. the unsubstantiality of all phenomena: "Void is the world ... because it is void of a self and anything belonging to a self" (suññam attena vā attaniyena vā; S. XXXV, 85…"
That would appear a direct answer, in terms of orthodoxy, supporting the first part of the OP question here, even citing the same sutta

So the rest (below), I'll go through anyway, as it touches on possible "difference":

One angle that comes to mind:
1) An association that anattā may be more of a vipassana / pannya issue; has to do with looking at, seeing into phenomena, of "behind" them (where there may or may not be anything there).

2) Similarly, an association that suññata has a dimension as a samādhi practice. This is rooted in personal viewpoint on the matter. Granted there's reams of material on suññata in various contexts, e.g. sn35.85, as well as a noteworthy, characteristically comprehensive essay by Thanissaro on the issue ("The Integrity of Emptiness", 2006); not to mention the whole issue of how it figures in Mahayana circles.

The samādhi angle has to do wth MN 121 (Cūlauññata Sutta), i.e. my having heard an all-day exposition of this sutta by one Santikaro, back in 2009. In terms of practice, what was learned then remains the sense of suññata that I use regularly.

Most here probably know MN 121 quite well. The gist of it, as I recall, has to do with mindfulness of how the context of phenomena shifts – when in the village (city), one is mindful of all the distractions (people, activity, noises, etc.); when going into the forest, noticing how all the distractions of the city are no longer present; the memory of them lingers for a moment, in noting that they are now absent, are suñña. Then that memory fades as one immerses in the experience of forest, which, after a while, proves also to have its own set of distractions (rustling leaves, insects, animals, etc.). And so on, moving successively through the contexts "earth" (more in the Kasina sense than in the Mahadhatu sense), unbounded space, unbounded consciousness, nothingness, neither perception nor not, and finally "cessation" – at each step at first mindful of the suññata that the previous context-sensations fall into, so to speak. Back at the start of the sutta, Buddha replied to Ananda that he, in fact, often "dwells" (probably viharati) in suññata , where this kind of "dwelling" often associates with samādhi, and in particular jhāna.

Curiously, this (MN 121) usage appears to be a possible exception to Nyanatiloka's assertion that suññata refers "exclusively to the anattā doctrine"?

This kind of practice also, IMO, relates to the classical samādhivipassana combo practice – one "dwells" in jhāna, acutely mindful of what it's like; then emerges and applies vipassana to examine what that experience was all about, including, probably, its ultimate suññata.
Yes, it does seem that "sunna" doesn't exclusively refer to "anatta" in the suttas, sometimes being descriptive of a meditative state.

However in the Sunna Sutta "sunna" does appear to be equivalent term to "anatta", though perhaps going further: "...empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self".

I notice that the Sunna Sutta refers to the sense bases and objects as the "world", in much the same way that the Sabba Sutta refers to them as "The All". Though interestingly the Sunna Sutta adds contact.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
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Aloka
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Re: How is sunna different to anatta?

Post by Aloka » Sun Aug 28, 2016 5:36 pm

To quote myself in a recent emptiness topic:
... as I'd been practising with a different tradition, I asked a Theravada teacher a number of years ago what was the difference between emptiness, anatta and nibbana and he said "They're the same".
:anjali:

Meggo
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Re: How is sunna different to anatta?

Post by Meggo » Sun Aug 28, 2016 5:38 pm

Spiny Norman wrote: However in the Sunna Sutta "sunna" does appear to be equivalent term to "anatta", though perhaps going further: "...empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self".
I notice that the Sunna Sutta refers to the sense bases and objects as the "world", in much the same way that the Sabba Sutta refers to them as "The All". Though interestingly the Sunna Sutta adds contact.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
I always had the feeling that "sunna" was a synonym for anatta, with the preferred use of attributing it to the most reduced phenomena of experience (and therefore to deny their inherent existence as well), while anatta seems to be used when there is an emergent feeling of self, which itself is produced out of the interaction of the sunna-bare-bone-phenomena. So sunna is nested inside anatta.

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piotr
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Re: How is sunna different to anatta?

Post by piotr » Sun Aug 28, 2016 5:44 pm

There's good sutta introduction on this topic written by Thanissaro Bhikkhu:
  • There [in the Canon] you find emptiness approached from three perspectives, treating it (1) as a meditative dwelling, (2) as an attribute of objects, and (3) as a type of awareness-release. The first approach is obviously the most immediately relevant to the discussion in this sutta, but in fact all three approaches play a role here.
- Translator's Introduction, Maha-suññata Sutta: The Greater Discourse on Emptiness (MN 122)
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SarathW
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Re: How is sunna different to anatta?

Post by SarathW » Sun Aug 28, 2016 9:26 pm

piotr wrote:There's good sutta introduction on this topic written by Thanissaro Bhikkhu:
  • There [in the Canon] you find emptiness approached from three perspectives, treating it (1) as a meditative dwelling, (2) as an attribute of objects, and (3) as a type of awareness-release. The first approach is obviously the most immediately relevant to the discussion in this sutta, but in fact all three approaches play a role here.
- Translator's Introduction, Maha-suññata Sutta: The Greater Discourse on Emptiness (MN 122)
Thanks for the link.
I have a question.
Why Sunnata is not considered in Dasama Sutta?
Can we apply the same Approach of three perspective to eleven doors describe, to Dasama Sutta?
“As the lamp consumes oil, the path realises Nibbana”


Dinsdale
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Re: How is sunna different to anatta?

Post by Dinsdale » Mon Aug 29, 2016 5:29 am

Thanks, I'd forgotten about that!
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Dinsdale
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Re: How is sunna different to anatta?

Post by Dinsdale » Mon Aug 29, 2016 5:31 am

Meggo wrote:
Spiny Norman wrote: However in the Sunna Sutta "sunna" does appear to be equivalent term to "anatta", though perhaps going further: "...empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self".
I notice that the Sunna Sutta refers to the sense bases and objects as the "world", in much the same way that the Sabba Sutta refers to them as "The All". Though interestingly the Sunna Sutta adds contact.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
I always had the feeling that "sunna" was a synonym for anatta, with the preferred use of attributing it to the most reduced phenomena of experience (and therefore to deny their inherent existence as well), while anatta seems to be used when there is an emergent feeling of self, which itself is produced out of the interaction of the sunna-bare-bone-phenomena. So sunna is nested inside anatta.
I'd assumed it was the other way round, anatta nested inside sunna.
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Meggo
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Re: How is sunna different to anatta?

Post by Meggo » Mon Aug 29, 2016 6:11 am

Spiny Norman wrote:
Meggo wrote:
Spiny Norman wrote: However in the Sunna Sutta "sunna" does appear to be equivalent term to "anatta", though perhaps going further: "...empty of a self or of anything pertaining to a self".
I notice that the Sunna Sutta refers to the sense bases and objects as the "world", in much the same way that the Sabba Sutta refers to them as "The All". Though interestingly the Sunna Sutta adds contact.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
I always had the feeling that "sunna" was a synonym for anatta, with the preferred use of attributing it to the most reduced phenomena of experience (and therefore to deny their inherent existence as well), while anatta seems to be used when there is an emergent feeling of self, which itself is produced out of the interaction of the sunna-bare-bone-phenomena. So sunna is nested inside anatta.
I'd assumed it was the other way round, anatta nested inside sunna.
Logically it could be seen that way as anatta is just a special case of sunna. So sunna is the overarching principle. But experientially it seems - to me - that atta comes before the experience of the constituents of "the world" in a realist sense. The reason is, that the meaning of an object is processed before the perception of the object itself reaches the conscious mind. For example you reflexively retract your hand from a fire even before you are conscious of the fire or its burning sensation. So the meaning of an object is only relevant relative to the intentions (in this example self preservation) of a subject. Therefore the significance of objects in the "objective world" is very much entangled with the self and its interests and is therefore really constructed by the self, therefore part of the self, which itself is exactly the emergent feeling developing out of such meaningful relationships. As deconstruction of the constituents of the subjective experience continues, there will come a point where the interplay between the "particulars" is seen through which will lead to the cessation of the sense of self, which was dependent on the until then unconscious relationships/ interplay of those particular phenomena. After this although, one could still attribute some form of realness to the bare particulars, thus some form of attachment would still be possible. I think it is for practitioners on this level, when the perception of sunna gaines practical relevance.

A practical example would be a melody. The memory of the notes (P1) that have already been played is the starting point for the extrapolation of a structure which predicts the notes to come(P2). The past notes also are able to elicit feelings (whatever feeling it may be) (P3), while the prediction of the future produces a second feeling - anticipation(P4). All perceptions (P1+2+3+4) blurred and lumped together produce a new affectively charched perception of a melody (P5) which, in this example, is atta (of course it is more complicated because lumped together with these perceptions are all the other perceptions which are necessary to even hear and process a melody - aka all of your body). Deconstruction of this whole process will lead a practitioner back to the particulars which in this case is just the simple singular tone of the melody occurring "right now" The perception of melody will cease, so in this case this is the realization of anatta. No more deconstruction is possible now, because one can not reduce the presence of a single tone. So to see through the realness of the particulars one has to change strategy and use the meditative perception / contemplation of sunna. Thats all IMHO and partly IMHE of course.

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